Many black parents in the United States parent their children using techniques developed during the years of American slavery, according to an August 2011 article in Chicago Now, an online news service of the “Chicago Tribune.” These techniques helped keep children safe in a racist society, according to Dr. Kerby Alvy, author of “The Soulful Parent: Raising Health, Happy and Successful African American Children,” who was interviewed for the article.
Alvy’s research found that African-American parents often use corporal punishment, which developed because masters and overseers beat slaves to keep them in line. Corporal punishment was also used on the children to ensure they would behave and protect them from being beaten by the master. In similar fashion, parents would downplay their children’s good qualities to prevent the master or overseer from recognizing a valuable quality that might cause the child to be sold. Raising children in poverty in a racist society also increases stressors that may make corporal punishment more likely, according to Alvy.
Mothers and Infants
The majority of African-American parents who are actually raising their children are single mothers, according to ChildStats.gov, which notes only 33 percent of African-American children lived with two parents in 2012. A study of mothers and their infants published in the 2010 Parenting: Science and Practice found mothers had opposing views of why children misbehave. The infants in the study ranged from 2 to 18 months of age. One group said infants could not understand right and wrong, while the other group punished infants who misbehaved because they believed the behavior was intentional and the child needed to learn to respect the mother’s authority. African-American mothers were more likely to belong to the first group.
Parenting styles were first described by psychologist Diana Baumrind, who noted that all parents display a mixture of responsiveness and warmth plus control and standards for behavior. Baumrind felt that authoritative parenting had the best balance of all aspects and was most effective for raising well-adjusted children who could achieve in school and the workplace. Although Alvy’s work indicated African-American parents are more likely to use an authoritarian style, with strict rules and harsh punishments, research reported in the 2002 Journal of Clinical Child Psychology found the authoritative style was more effective for African-American children.
African-American parents were more likely to feel they needed more help and support with parenting than they were able to get, according to a November 2009 study for the Zero to Three website. Twenty percent of African-American parents wanted more support. This study also found African-American parents were more likely to have a regular caregiver other than themselves, typically a grandparent or other family member. Twenty-seven percent of African-American parents struggled with child care arrangements. African-American parents were more likely to raise their children the way they themselves had been raised when compared to whites and Hispanics, and they were more likely to say that their faith influenced their parenting practices.
- Chicago Now: Should Black Children Be Parented Differently?
- ChildStats.Gov: Family Structure and Children's Living Arrangements
- Parenting Science and Practice: Mothers’ Beliefs about Parenting and Disciplining Infants: A Mixed-Method Analysis
- Journal of Clinical Child Psychology: Parenting Styles and Child Behavior in African American Families of Preschool Children
- Zero to Three: Parenting Infants and Toddlers Today
- DevelopmentalPsychology.org: Diana Baumrind's (1966) Prototypical Descriptions of 3 Parenting Styles
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Parenting Styles African American and White Families with Young Children -- Findings from an Observational Study
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